Dear Brothers and Sisters,
There is something unreal and annoying about social media. It’s a bit like those holiday snaps which invariably present a picture of an idyllic time where everyone is enjoying themselves and the sun is always shining – the reality of the family quarrels, the rip off meals and the exhausting travel being left unspoken! Instagram, Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter (which seems much more capable of portraying ugliness!) often provide a false picture of someone’s ‘perfect’ life. To me – they are very limited media, which by definition can never get near the whole story. They are useful but limited tools.
Why this reflection? Because showing pictures from Australia (where it appears the sun does always shine – to the extent that we daily pray for much needed rain) can give a false impression. There is no doubt that we live in a stunning city. We could be in Sydney for years and send you a photo every day and we would still not have exhausted the sights. But there is much more to the city than the external beauty. There is the ugliness and brokenness caused by sin, self and Satan. And yet there is also the beauty and ugliness of the apex of God’s creation – humanity and our creativity. The variety within the creation is matched by the variety and complexity within our own hearts and relationships.
John Calvin in his Institutes makes the observation that the two hardest things to know in the world are God and yourself. ‘Who am I?’ is the existentialist question which is driving identity politics and identity sexuality in our culture. It’s also one to which I had a simple answer – ‘my identity is in Christ’. But this week I have been questioning the sincerity of my own answer. It’s an easy and correct thing to say – but is it really true?
When you move to another country you are aware that you are a stranger. Is my identity found in the fact that I am a Scot? What about family? Leaving parents and children at the other side of the world is not easy (although its lovely to have some here)…am I my family? What about friends? Over years you build up friendships that deepen – and now you feel a long way away. Modern means of communication are helpful but not satisfying. Am I the sum total of my friendships? I wonder how many of our friends are really just acquaintances, whom we forget about, and who forget us, when we are out of sight and out of mind?
All of these questions come to mind. It’s good to have family here, its good to be in such a welcoming country like Australia, and it’s good to make new friends. For all that I am deeply thankful – and yet there is still a sense of displacement. Is this something that every Christian should feel? We are after all not yet ‘home’ – we’re just ‘a passing through’. But being honest I don’t think my sense of displacement is a longing for heaven – although I hope and pray that it can translate into that.
Often our sense of identity is tied in with our work. People will identity themselves by their work – a doctor, a teacher, a farm worker, a lorry driver and a preacher. I am a preacher and a pastor. Perhaps I was far too quick to say that my identity was in Christ – because I fear that my identity was more in what I did for Christ, than in Him. I miss being the pastor of a congregation and preaching every Sunday to that congregation. I knew that St Peter’s was not ‘my’ church – I don’t think I ever regarded it as such – I always knew it was Christs. The church did not belong to me, but I did belong to them. Although there is still a bond of prayer and love – and I miss them enormously – even as I write I am listening to last Sunday’s service – the day to day and week to week relationship weakens. I think that has been the hardest thing about being here. Who am I if I am no longer the minster of St Peters…?
Last Sunday I was thrilled to get back to preaching. It was appropriate that it was in Scots Presbyterian church, right in the heart of Sydney. If I am being honest I was looking forward to preaching on Psalm 4 too much. Afterwards I thought it was ok, until I listened to it!
It was a humbling experience from which I hope I will learn. I am not a preacher – at least not in the sense that I can take my identity from that. In fact, I have nothing and am nothing without Christ. I am a sinner…and the more I go on the more I can empathise with Paul’s declaration that he was the chief of sinners.
That is not a comfortable thing to really realise, but it is not a bad place to be. The ‘I’ is not really what it is all about. Who ‘I’ am, is not really the question. Where I am is the key. Am I in Christ? Or am ‘I’ the centre of my own universe? Galatians 2:20 ” I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” If we really grasp this wonderful truth – then no matter what country we are in, what job we do, what relationships we have, we will learn the secret of contentment. We will be placed in Christ and so any sense of displacement, though real, will only be about temporary things.
Now I can look forward to the Lord’s Day and pray that, wherever we are, both you and I will be ‘in the Spirit’ on His Day – and that our preachers will communicate Christ to us…
Yours in Him
“Knowing then these things, let us also learn to be modest and not to glory at any time in wealth or other worldly things, but in the reproaches we suffer for Christ’s sake, and in these, only when need compels; for if there be nothing urging it, let us not mention these even (lest we be puffed up’), but our sins only. For so we shall both easily be released from them and shall have God propitious to us, and shall attain the life to come..” (Chrysostom – Homily on Second Corinthians – XXV).
Ps. Here is the morning service from St Peter’s referred to above…superb…Sinclair IS a preacher!
“A Hard Day’s Night” – Letter from Australia 3